What’s new in the world of diabetes? We’ve rounded up the news for you…
The BBC reported that a pioneering therapy is safe for type 1 diabetics. The therapy retrains the immune system, and it was tested on 27 people in the UK. It showed signs of slowing the disease. Like many of these kinds of treatments, though, it only works on people who have been diagnosed recently – it’s unlikely to help those who’ve had the condition for years.
Another BBC report focused on the rise of Type 2 diabetes in children. More than 600 children and teenagers in England and Wales are being treated for the condition. A report from child health experts found 110 more cases among the under-19s in 2015-16 than two years before. Local councils have warned this is a “hugely disturbing trend” – and that urgent action to tackle childhood obesity is needed.
Bedfordshire News reported on a new approach to type 2 diabetes treatment the University of Bedfordshire and the local branch of Diabetes UK is trying out. The university is hosting weekly exercise sessions so people can take advantage of regular exercise sessions and support to help them make changes to their lifestyle. One 70-year-old told the newspaper the clinic had made a huge difference to his strength and energy levels.
How do you feel about your diabetes? Amy Mercer thought she’d come to terms with her condition a long time ago, but a chakra reading revealed pent-up anger and frustration. Amy wrote an interesting post on what she learned from the reading on Diabetes Self-Management.
Finally, it’s not a week if there isn’t at least one article purporting a ‘cure’ for diabetes… Clinical trials have begun for ViaCyte’s PEC-Direct – an implant that grows insulin-producing cells from stem cells, according to futurism.com. ViaCyte’s president, Paul Laikind, said he thought the PEC-Direct product had the potential to transform the lives of people with type 1 diabetes.
The Foundation’s development manager cites bioscience expertise where Scottish institutions, scientists and charities are already working in support of this aim, but she believes Scotland’s role could be even bigger.
A child diagnosed at the age of five can need more than 19,000 insulin injections before his or her 18th birthday [incidentally, where does that put you? I’m in my 33rd year of diabetes] so there’s no doubt that a cure will be welcomed by us, if not by the insulin-production companies…
Morrice says the JDRF wants the Scottish Government to encourage an even greater focus on type 1 diabetes research. Scotland has among the world’s highest rates of incidence, and the JDRF has invested nearly £4 million in projects at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Across the international JDRF network, Morrice says, the organisation is delivering ground-breaking work. There are three areas of work which are of particular importance – encapsulation, immunotherapy and medicinal foods. The encapsulation research being carried out in the US is looking at ways to implant insulin-producing cells in the body while protecting them from the immune system. The basic idea is that they are wrapped in a protective coating and can do the same job as the ones in a healthy pancreas.
Immunotherapy works to alter what the immune system does, retraining it to no longer attack cells such as the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. In Boston, a research team is working on a technique which will ‘hijack’ red blood cells, attaching insulin fragments to them. These blood cells travel quickly through the body and don’t cause an immune response themselves, as the individual produces them.
Food as Medicine
Then, there are medicinal foods. JDRF-funded research in Australia has shown that types of bacteria in our gut can have an impact on overall health. This has opened up debate about food could be used as medicine, helping to treat or prevent type 1 diabetes without harmful drugs.
But Scotland has something almost every other country doesn’t, Morrice adds – a database of people with type 1 diabetes that allows collaboration with families affected by type 1 diabetes who want to join clinical trials. Called the Scottish Care Information – Diabetes Collaboration, Morrice says it’s a vital resource for research scientists and the Foundation’s “overwhelming wish” is for Scotland to take the lead role in type 1 diabetes research.
It’s difficult to avoid news about diabetes, as there are regular articles in the press – from the doom and gloom predictions about burdens on the healthcare system to simplistic pieces about “cures”, diabetes makes the news on a regular basis.
As an optimist by nature, I prefer to ignore the first and concentrate on the second and its potential; however, if you are interested – there’s a good discussion of it on the NHS news website, which separates the attention-grabbing headlines from the facts and discusses the origins of the research.
[In short, the NHS reckons the Daily Telegraph’s coverage of the study which was carried out by the Universities of Queensland and other universities in Australia, the Netherlands, the UK and the US, expressed the results in way that could be misleading. Saying for example that “female patients are twice as likely to die from heart disease than men with [type 1 diabetes]” was too simplistic an explanation because men do not generally live as long as women.
The researchers did not directly compare rates of death in men and women – they compared risk of death over a given period in women with type 1 diabetes, compared to that of women in the general population and then made the equivalent comparison with men.]
The other piece of news was about the development of “smart insulin”: i.e. an insulin which can respond to blood sugar levels directly and bring them under control. Type 1 diabetics and some people with type 2 diabetes take insulin to control blood sugar levels, but it can be tricky to work out how much to take, as there are many different things that have an impact on your blood sugar levels – from doing exercise, to missing a meal, from feeling ill to feeling stressed, under or over estimating the number of carbohydrates in a meal, drinking alcohol, hormonal fluctuations in the lead-up to getting your period (women of menstruating age) and more.
The smart insulin study was carried out by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, funded by donations from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Tayebati Family Foundation.
An animal study on mice found that “smart insulin” containing a molecular switch could directly respond to blood glucose levels (high levels) and bring them under control for as long as 13 hours after the initial injection. The study involved giving mice with type 1 diabetes a sugary drink. The “smart insulin” was a modified insulin containing two small chemical molecules that bind to insulin, one of which was a glucose sensor. Having taken sugary solutions, the mice with diabetes who had been given the modified insulin were able to rapidly normalise blood glucose levels – in a similar way to healthy, non-diabetic mice.
The NHS news site called the results “promising”, but pointed out that the research was in its very early stages and that it had been carried out on mice. Years of research and clinical trials would be needed – developing the treatment for humans, seeing if it was safe for humans, carrying out research on large numbers of people – before “smart insulin” could be used by humans. Promising research into the treatment of mice with diabetes does not equate to effective results for human beings.
In short, a simple, take-home message is: don’t wait out in the hope of the appearance of smart insulin any time soon, and in the meantime those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes (male OR female) should look to controlling their diabetes as best they can.